Tuesday, May 17, 2011

American Dream

The idea of the “American Dream” has been around for a long time (even longer than our Government has been in debt!).  It’s a pretty big deal for us Americans, and we take our exclusive bragging rights pretty seriously.  “The Dream” is older than our grandparents, and starts as young as our Barbie “dream house” (or the equivalent for GI Joe, fine).  How do we define our “American Dream”?  Perhaps your “dream” involves making a lot of money (I vote Jay-Z style), or being able to have the stuff we want (when we want it).  Maybe the possibility of living “The Dream” is why we love “American Idol”, “America’s Got Talent”, and “The Bachelor” (or when US Weekly shows us how "Celebrities are just like us" - we know how to throw out garbage and eat cupcakes!).   

For many of us, living the “Dream” invokes images of the Cleaver family, with the “perfect” home and family, complete with a dog and at least two each of cars and TVs (and step it up with the digital cable package, thank you).  Yet as our jobs, family dynamics, and preferences change (formally known as “socio-economic characteristics”) perhaps our “dreams” have also changed.  This starts young:  how many kids do you know who play with “EasyBake” ovens over Nintendo DS’s?  One thing seems to have affected the age-old “Dream” (at least for now) - the same 2008-09 economic downturn we’ve been trying to forget. 
According to data released today, fewer of us these days are living out our “American Dream” through building and buying a new “dream” home.  New “housing starts” (the number of new homes built each year) were at an annual pace of 523,000 units in April.   This is low compared to historical standards (over 1 million new homes during 2008) and has remained flat since 2009, even though the rest of the economy is on the road to recovery.  A lot of people look to these numbers not only as an indication of what our current preferences are, but also as a gage on the future of the housing market (how much value we are adding to our economy, and to America’s wealth).  These numbers have further job implications, suggesting construction is not where those of us looking for work should run to (picture the “Danger: Falling Objects” sign).

Our “road to recovery” has been bumpy (complete with falling objects).  This is certainly true for the value of our homes, and right now our ability to have a new “dream home” does vary by where we live.  Housing starts in April were up in the Mid-west, down in the South, and relatively flat by comparison in the Northeast and West.  Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to relocate as the Kardashians make it out to be.

We all want to live the “American Dream”.  While everyone’s “dream” may be different we all have to get this party started somewhere.   Maybe just not with the house, at least for the time being.

(Census Bureau, Dept. of Housing & Urban Development)

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